How to Not Get Robbed

Being robbed is a shocking and humiliating experience which raises immediate questions: how did it happen? why did it happen to me? How could I be so stupid?

The answers were also quick in coming: it happened because I got onto a packed train (the 1630 “personal” to Brasov) in a state of agitation (I’d had a bad day) and there were a couple of likely lads moving through the packed crowd of commuters. I was trying to find a place where I could squeeze in my folding  bike when I reached into my jacket pocket, which had not been zipped shut, to find that my BlackBerry had gone. So had the likely lads.

I must have stood out like a sore thumb in that packed train wagon: a foreign looking chap carrying a bike and in a hurry. No wonder they targeted me. Romania is a safe place and there is less street crime than in UK, but like anywhere in the world there are places you shouldn’t go and people you should avoid.

Sometimes I have a moment of panic when I slap all my pockets to check for my phone and wallet, ensuring the zips or buttons are closed.  This was the first thing I did (and did again and again) when I realised I’d been robbed. I was sure that my BlackBerry would be in one of my 14 pockets, secreted away “somewhere safe”.  I checked my bag and confirmed the bad news: my BlackBerry had been stolen.

What to do? Stay on the train and go to my destination (Breaza) without any form of communication, or get off and find a replacement?  I  confirmed my reputation among the commuters as an eccentric and got off the train, just as it was leaving, went to the ticket office and booked onto the next train (with a very middle class crowd) and went to Orange to get a replacement SIM card.

The people at Orange were unimpressed by the fact that my Blackberry had been stolen and said a replacement would cost about 500 Euro, shocking news considering I had only paid 20 Euro for the damn thing in the first place.  But I had signed up for a 2 year Blackberry contract at 13 Euro a month and if you sign one of these you get the hardware at a big discount.

Now I am in the process of looking for a second hand Blackberry (maybe you have an old one in a box under your bed?) while using an old Nokia E51 – a phone which is so good that I really don’t understand why I stopped using it two years ago.

Almost as soon as I realised that my Blackberry had been stolen I thought I could learn from this and write about it (hence this article).  This constructive feeling helped to eliminate any feelings of anger at what had happened.  I left the station with a clear idea of what I need to do to avoid being robbed again.

The main reason I was robbed is that I had got on that train in a state of agitation, in other words I was feeling stressed by other things that had happened that day.  What this means in practise is that you move around in a cloud of thoughts about the situation you left behind earlier and you are not focused on what was happening in front of me.  First rule: when travelling, be aware of your surroundings.

Second problem was complacency.  Even though the Romanians can be noisy and sometimes rude, they are generally very good natured and honest.  Like anywhere, there are plenty of thieves around, but 20 years of experience in Romania tells me that most Romanians very honest.  My mistake was to step onto that train feeling that I could trust everyone. Second rule: don’t be too trusting (but being too suspicious is equally misplaced.)

And the third and most obvious rule is not to flash your Blackberry or wallet around when you are moving through a crowd (it’s amazing how many people do this).  When you’re in a hurry and feeling a bit stressed it’s almost second nature to constantly reach for your phone, it’s almost like a nervous tic in some people. But the sneak thieves who operate in stations are probably looking for people who pull out their hardware and look a bit distracted. Zip it up and ignore incoming calls if you’re in a rush.

I could even go as far as saying that I’m grateful for the thieves who took my Blackberry because they taught me some useful lessons – all of which I knew already, but this is a timely reminder to be a bit more wary and careful when in a hurry. But that would be going too far.

8 Responses to How to Not Get Robbed

  1. Brian Douglas says:

    A bad experience and could have been avoided this unfortunate incident if you had placed the valuable items in your inside pocket! This is elementary when in crowded areas including public transport and not only in Romania either as opportunist are all over Europe today. Hope you found a good replacement and overcome this happening.

  2. ourmaninbucharest says:

    As soon as I saw your tweet that you had your bike, I could see what I think was the scenario. Once you are targeted, a split second’s distraction, and they move in. It happened to me once and only once at a subway station in Madrid in 2000. I was lost, looking for the exit, getting annoyed that I couldn’t find it, distracted for maybe 20 seconds, no more. All of a sudden I felt that it was missing yet there was no-one near me nor did I recall anyone approaching me.

  3. Steven says:

    So true what you are saying. Mine got stolen a few years ago in Lisbon under very similar circumstances! I could have avoided this if I would have applied your rules. I guess this is one of those things in life you need to experience before you learn.

  4. major warbrick says:

    It reminds me of the time that some wags in Italy tageted my rucksack i was wearing on a bus.(yeh I am not sure why i didnt take it off)I used the bag to squash them against the back of the bus.I think I had the pleasure of hearing them bleat for 15 miles.I suppose if they had been carrying a blade i might have been in trouble but in youth there is ignorance.

  5. Craig Turp says:

    I guess my first question would be why were you on a personal train?

  6. Stan Lee says:

    Ha,if it’s going to happen it will happen. Last time it happened to me I was flagged down at a phoney checkpoint in a Beirut street, a likely lad (about 15, maybe 16) stuck his head through my window and a pistol to my head and told me and everyone else to get out. Then they drove off with the car and everything in it, passport and all, leaving us standing in the street wondering why I’d stopped the car. One thing I learned: you just don’t move when someone has a gun to your head. Don’t believe the stuff in the movies about grabbing the gun.

  7. Thanks a lot for these really interesting comments. I like the fact that this rather basic article has been enhanced by the addition of other voices, and that rather dramatic story from Beirut

    I still don’t have a replacement BlackBerry and don’t know if I will get one as they cost 500 Euro (the one I had bought cost 20 Euro because I signed up to a two year lease whereby I pay those Orange swine 13 Euro a month just so I can go around saying “I’ve got a Blackberry!”…Maybe the likely lads are in league with Orange. I’ll get Holmes onto it.

    Which reminds me, did you hear about the first black player who joined Rangers Football Club in Glasgow? They had warned him about the racism and hatred in the city that is divided along catholic protestant lines, but he wasn’t expecting to be called “a dirty Orange bastard” when he ran on.

    They weren’t referring to the phone company but the Dutch House of Orange that took over the British throne in ____ (hundreds of years ago) and thrashed the Catholics in Northern Ireland.

    I don’t understand it either.

    Thanks again for the comments. Keep ’em coming…

  8. Julian says:

    Well Rupert you’ve learnt a lesson that any regular public transport user knows. There’s always someone out to steal something. In London, quite often a Romanian. At least in Bucuresti you aren’t likely to end up on the wrong end of a knife, unlike some parts of London. Romanians can hold their drink a lot better than the English too, another factor influencing safety on public transport. Frankly I’d feel safer in a CFR train and generally in Romania.

    It’s a pity you aren’t closer. My employer just gave me a new Blackberry and the old one is here doing nothing. I wonder why they don’t recycle them. It’s only been dropped a few times:)

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